Sunday, July 01, 2007

Christian Liberty

Pastor Mike recently posted this elsewhere, and it seemed such a wonderful and important follow-up to my "Fall to Grace" series, that I asked his permission to repost it here:

Olivia wrote: “I wonder if you, Jen, or anyone else here willing to do so could direct me to a site that explains the concept of Christian liberty…. What does Christian liberty mean, and where can it be found?”

Olivia, you have asked the $64,000 question! It is this question that has driven my ministry for the last twenty years. I am not aware of what sites out there might address this issue, but I would like to address the question as briefly as I can. To really explore the subject would take several chapter-length posts, and I can’t do that. I will try to be as succinct as possible, and that means I won’t be able to flesh out all of the comments as I wish I could. I will try to organize my comments, so you can use them as a springboard for further study on your own.

First — what does the word “liberty” mean? It is the Latin-based synonym for the Old English-based word “freedom.” It has many meanings, but the primary meaning in most contexts is this: “not restricted or restrained by external control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; the power or right to do, think, speak, etc., according to choice.”

This is the foundation of the meaning of “Christian liberty.” It is to be unrestricted by certain controls and powers that once did restrict the person who was not a Christian before. The Gentiles were controlled entirely by their sin nature. The Jews were sinners too, but they were also under the control of the law [GAL. 3:24: “The law was our ‘paedagogos’ — meaning “nanny” or “warden”].

According to the Bible, the Christian has been set free from both of these things. While we still struggle with sin, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are “free” from that total dominance of the sin nature. We now have the Holy Spirit, and a new nature.

In addition, the NT is full of the idea that we have also been set free from the “yoke” of the Law of Moses. We are “free from the law,” “delivered from the law,” “not under the law,” “children of Sarah, and not of Hagar,” and much more. Both Paul and Peter refer to that old law as a “yoke.” Paul calls it a “yoke of slavery.” In Colossians 2 he says that it “stood against us, contrary to us.”

So Christian liberty sets us free from both the control of that old law — and the automatic condemnation OF that old law — and the control of the sin nature. We are not compelled to follow the Gentiles into their debauchery, nor are we compelled to follow all the rituals and regulations that were designed to set the Jews apart from everyone else.

We are also free from condemnation — “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” There WAS condemnation under that old law. In fact, 2 COR. 3 even refers to the 10-C, specifically, as a “ministry of death and condemnation,” and contrasts that with the new ministry of “life and righteousness” in the Spirit.

So we are free FROM some things — free from the domination of sin, free from the law, and free from condemnation. But we are also free TO some things: We are now set free to have a direct relationship with God, through Christ, and not through the mediatorship of human priests. We are all priests, in that sense, because we all now have direct access — boldly — to the throne of grace. And we don’t have to sacrifice animals all the time in order to gain that access, because our access is guaranteed by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, our high priest.

So we are free to approach God without fear of condemnation. We are free to know God intimately, and not as a far-away, stern, condemning authority, but as our “Abba” — which means “Papa.” Christ is our elder-brother, and God is our “papa” in a special sense. This is why Paul, in Ephesians, says that “you were once were far off have now been brought near.”

We are free to relate to each other differently, as well. We can accept differences and allow each other the freedom of our own convictions — and we can help each other with problems and we can counsel, and pray, and support, and exhort, and admonish, in the Lord — because we are a family. “You which are spiritual should bear the burdens of the weak.” There are dozens of commandments in the NT that explain to us how to relate to “one another” and work out this new relationship.

We are also free to make our own decisions, based on the wisdom found in the scripture, and with the wise counsel of mature Christian friends. We ARE “free to choose” in many areas that the OT Jews were not free to choose. They had rules to follow, and those rules were to be strictly enforced. But our rules are very simple and most of them are general, leaving it up to us to apply them specifically. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “submit to one another,” and so many more commands — give, support, pray, help, forgive, etc.

To sum up: We are free FROM the dominating power of sin, and from condemnation, and from the old law. We are free TO relate to God in a new and intimate way, to relate to each other as family, and to make our own decisions, within certain broad parameters.

The Law of Christ tells us that we are free to choose, within those broad parameters. Genuine Christian freedom means that God has given us the ability and the right, as mature adults, to make our own decisions — as long as those decisions are bound by the moral law of God.

How are we to handle such freedom? Some people fear it. They love their legalism. They love all those rules. They feel safer that way, the same way slaves felt who were afraid of taking care of themselves. But while freedom can be dangerous, and scary — the yoke of slavery cannot be compared to it. AND — this freedom is what Christ died to give us.

We handle this freedom responsibly by heeding Paul’s and Peter’s commands — and by learning HOW to relate to each other IN this freedom. We are commanded not to judge each other over certain matters that are not biblically required — and to not allow them to judge us over them, either; we are commanded to voluntarily limit our own freedom for the sake of a weaker brother who may be influenced by us; and we are commanded to stand up for our freedom in the face of “Pharisees” who seek to steal that freedom from us and put us in bondage.

Make no mistake. You WILL have to fight mightily against those who seek to steal your freedom in Christ. Unless you are prepared to do so, you will be dragged back into bondage. Finally — we are commanded to use our freedom to serve each other in love, not to indulge our own fleshly desires.

There are so many scriptures that speak to this. Let me just close with a few of them:

JOHN 8:36: If the Son makes you free, then you are free, indeed.

ROM. 6:18: Being made free from sin, you become the servants of righteousness.

ROM. 8:2: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

1 COR. 8:9: But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.

1 COR. 10:29: Why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?

2 COR. 3:17: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

GAL. 2:4: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in secretly to spy out our liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.

GAL. 4:31: We are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free.

GAL. 5:1: Stand firm in the freedom for which Christ has made you free, and do not become entangled again in that yoke of slavery.

GAL. 5:13: You have been called to freedom. Only — do not use your freedom as an occasion to indulge the flesh, but by love serve one another.

JAMES 2:12: So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

1 PET. 2:16: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

All of those passages, and many more, deserve much fuller discussion. I encourage you to seek it out, and immerse yourself in it. The liberty that Christ died to give you is so precious, that it deserves our constant attention, and care, and defense. And legalists hate that freedom with a white-hot passion — and if you stand up for it, they will hate you, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment